The first Saturday of May, the customary day of the Kentucky Derby, was a quiet one, as not just the iconic horse race but all professional sports in the United States were put on hold due to the threat from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, per CNN. While the horses competing cannot contract coronavirus, the large crowds of attendees would have posed a serious risk for community spread. In response to the threat, Churchill Downs Incorporated postponed the Kentucky Derby four months, until September 5, 2020.
Churchill Downs Incorporated’s decision was made in the hopes that the severity of the pandemic will have declined in the intervening months, allowing the traditional first leg of the Triple Crown to go ahead in as normal a set of circumstances as possible. In the statement announcing the postponement, Churchill Downs Incorporated CEO Bill Carstanjen said the decision was a difficult but necessary one.
“Throughout the rapid development of the COVID-19 pandemic, our first priority has been how to best protect the safety and health of our guests, team members and community. As the situation evolved, we steadily made all necessary operational adjustments to provide the safest experience and environment. The most recent developments have led us to make some very difficult, but we believe, necessary decisions and our hearts are with those who have been or continue to be affected by this pandemic.”
The race known as the fastest two minutes in sports will take off at 2:30 p.m. on the rescheduled date of September 5. The event’s usual broadcaster, NBC, will be airing the race. The Derby’s postponement means that it is now the second leg of the Triple Crown. The Belmont Stakes, traditionally the final leg of the three most important thoroughbred horse races in the United States, is now the opener, taking place in its usual June but with a shorter distance of a mile-and-an-eighth. The race has been a mile-and-a-half since 1926. The Triple Crown will be closed with the Preakness Stakes, which has been rescheduled from its traditional May date to October 3.
This rearrangement is likely to produce a Triple Crown race like no other, per Trainer. Four months is a long time in horse racing, and already two undefeated colts that were potential favorites in May — Nadal and Charlatan — will no longer be taking part due to injuries. The current favorite is three-year-old Tiz the Law, who could be vying for a Triple Crown if he lives up to expectations at Belmont. Another contender is Honor A.P., whose hype has grown after a Santa Anita Derby victory that saw him best the previously undefeated Authentic.